The same court that sentenced Moroccan Mounir El Motassadeq, 30, to 15 years jail in 2003 for conspiring to murder around 3,000 people in the September 2001 plane attacks in the United States, ruled he should be freed.
He emerged beaming from Hamburg’s main courthouse, but made no comment before four friends steered him into a waiting car.
“What’s important is that he is free and can be with his family,” defense lawyer Josef Graessle-Muenscher said of his client, who is married with two children. “I think that we’re heading toward an acquittal or the abandonment of the trial.”
The United States and Germany are likely to see his release as a further setback in Washington’s “war on terror.”
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said America was disappointed by the release. “We believe the evidence against him is strong and we believe he is a dangerous guy,” he said.
Motassadeq had also been found guilty of belonging to a terrorist organization — a German al Qaeda cell that included three of the 2001 suicide hijackers. Prosecutors had described him as a “vital cog” in the September 11 plot.
But Germany’s Supreme Court quashed his conviction and ordered a retrial a month ago, shortly after new evidence led to the acquittal of Motassadeq’s friend, Abdelghani Mzoudi, who had faced almost identical charges.
The Hamburg court said on Wednesday that Motassadeq was no longer “strongly suspected” of aiding murder, but may still have belonged to a terrorist organization.
Federal prosecutor Kay Nehm told Reuters TV that continued suspicion of the latter meant the chances of securing a conviction remained good.